On October 21, 2011, I finally got the chance to drive the what is possibily the most argued about MINI ever created; The MINI Countryman. The MotoringFile long-term tester, in a drive from Chicago to Detroit, where we where celebrating Woofcast 400.
Following Gabe in his new BMW 1M, we begin our journey to Detroit by navigating to the nearest coffee shop. The roads were quaint and all of the trees were changing color, something I’m not used to being from the West Coast. Coffee procured, we begin heading out of town, starting with a run down Lake Shore Drive.
Around town, this MINI drives as you would expect. You can tell it’s larger than the hardtop, and heavier too. It definitely drives heavy. A fact that I found really noticeable going around corners without the sport button pressed (editors note: the sport button only controls the steering and throttle mapping).
Navigating Chicago’s pot-hole riddled roads was a breeze, with a good ride. However I would have expected this MINI to have a quieter interior. There was a fair amount of road noise from the run-flat tires and wind noise from the windows. And this was at much less than highway speeds.
On the highway, it was a great cruiser. And not afraid of speeds that could earn you more than a few motoring awards. I had my iPhone connected for music playback and the bluetooth connected for voice communications, and both of those worked very well as you would expect. MINI Connected was installed, so I put it on my iPhone. I didn’t get a chance to really play with it, but I did look and I wasn’t impressed. Something I would want to revisit in the future.
Is it me, or has the nav system gotten slow? I’m used to navigation provided by a stand-alone device or the older nav systems. This one seemed to lag quite a bit. By which I mean I knew where I was 10-20 seconds after I was there. Tough to decide on “is it this street or the next one?” when there is so much lag.
Halfway through Indiana we made a stop for provisions for the evening and some lunch. I had about 3 hours in this MINI so far and wasn’t really impressed. Little things had bothered me like the way it handled and the amount of noise in the cabin at speeds. Also, while the entertainment/nav system is chock full of features, getting around in is not what you expect. It’s a push down and turn controller, that you turn the opposite way that you think you should to makes the changes you want. I spent 6 hours in the driver seat of that MINI and never got used it.
Driving it on the highway, besides the road and wind noise, was nice. It was a comfortable ride and I was never not comfortable in the sport seats. One thing I did notice on this that I haven’t noticed on the 6-speed manual transmission before is the sheer reach required to get into 5th and 6th gear. I felt as if I was reaching into the passenger side footwell to make the gear change. But I have a short wingspan.
Gabe kept telling me that hitting the sport button was where it’s at, so I did. Everything tightened up a bit, throttle response improved and in general, it felt like sport mode, but not really. I could tell a change in acceleration or throttle response while in sport mode, but just barely. The steering did felt a a little tighter too. Then, I did straight line acceleration with the sport button pressed. What a squirrelly machine! Gobs of torque steer and an overall feeling of being a little out of control. But boy does this MINI go! In unsuccessful attempts at keeping up with Gabe and Nathaniel in the BMW, I made the red needle travel north of 100MPH more than once.
I was really excited to get the chance to drive this MINI over an extended period of time and glad that I did. I also know that many of you really enjoy your Countryman, and I’m sure with time (and some non-runflat tires), I would too. I’m disappointed that the first impression wasn’t that great.
Don ‘db’ Burnside
MINI Enthusiast, Podcast host, 2003 R50 driver